Educators and school librarians are facing unprecedented change amid the pandemic, as a large number of students pivot to distance learning with a greater reliance on digital resources of all types. With this piece, we launch an occasional series that will feature various digital reading data for schools and libraries, providing a snapshot of which materials are most in demand by students and teachers.

On September 24, OverDrive Education announced that it was teaming up with a variety of popular K–12 curriculum developers—EL Education, StudyForge, and Schoolwide among them—to help schools provide instant access to required and recommended e-books and audiobooks for both in-classroom and distance learning. This effort comes in response to the increased need for digital materials as the supply chain for print books has been disrupted and many schools have begun the 2020–2021 academic year online.

Angela Arnold, general manager of OverDrive Education, commented on the new partnerships in a statement, “As schools reopen and students return amid great uncertainty, publishers, curriculum experts, educators, and school librarians are rallying to support them in innovative ways with digital books.” One of the newer avenues of support is the On-Demand Class Set feature in the company’s Sora reading app for K–12 students. “Schools need to maximize budgets, so we work closely with publishers to participate in cost-effective class-set pricing,” Arnold said. “This model is ideal for individual classes, grades, buildings, or an entire district.”

Sweet Summer Success

Though the new school year—in all its varying forms—is in full swing in most states, summer reading is not too far in the rearview mirror. OverDrive Education recently shared some stats from its summer reading program, Sora Sweet Reads. Formerly known as the OverDrive Summer Read, Sora Sweet Reads incorporates the name of OverDrive Education’s digital reading platform for students, Sora. To date, more than 35,000 schools worldwide have adopted Sora.

In a move designed to help students combat both “summer slide” and learning loss exacerbated by the spring school closures in the wake of the pandemic, Sora Sweet Reads began earlier and ran 37 days longer than last year’s summer reading program. From April 15–July 31, participating students in the U.S. and Canada enjoyed 24/7 access to 31 children’s and YA e-books and select audiobook and read-along titles. According to OverDrive Education, the program saw a 90% increase from the number of schools that participated in 2019 (which had been a record year with a 300% increase over 2018—a spike attributed to the introduction of Sora). Student participation grew more than five times from 2019, resulting in a 500% increase in circulations year-over-year. In total, more than 250,000 students took part, reading at least one of the program’s 31 titles.

OverDrive Education reports that in addition to the boosts for Sora Sweet Reads, overall student reading saw an impressive uptick during the same April-to-July time frame. Over those 100 days, an additional 500,000 students read a total of five million titles from their school’s collection that were not part of the Sweet Reads program.

The top three Sweet Reads titles in the children’s e-book category were From the Top by Lincoln Peirce; Arcade or Bust! by Amaris Glass, a chapter book tie-in to Nickelodeon’s The Loud House; and Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. And the three most-read YA e-book Sweet Reads selections were The Dirt Diary by Anna Staniszewski, Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson, and On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

Library Card Sign-up Month

ALA launched the first Library Card Sign-up Month in 1987 as a national campaign to emphasize the important role a library card plays in supporting a child’s education and in stemming illiteracy. Since then, libraries nationwide celebrate Library Card Sign-up Month each September, and tout all that libraries have to offer.

OverDrive is a sponsor of ALA’s annual awareness campaign, and, in that spirit, has shared data on its Instant Digital Card program, which allows residents in a public library’s service area to instantly sign up for a library card using their cell phone number. Within roughly 30 seconds, readers who sign up are connected to their local library’s digital materials collection via OverDrive’s reading app, Libby. The Instant Digital Card program experienced a huge spike when libraries closed their doors in mid-March, and has seen explosive growth year-to-date. OverDrive reports that as of September 24, more than 550,000 Instant Digital Cards have been created in 2020, compared to 142,000 created in all of 2019. Additionally, the company revealed that the number of e-book and audiobook checkouts by readers using an Instant Digital Card have increased more than 400% year-over-year, to more than five million. The new stats indicate that more than 77 library systems are currently using the Instant Digital Card program, compared to 36 systems in 2019.